After traveling coast to coast under the tutelage of Wolfgang Puck, Jennifer Jasinski planted herself in Denver, a market where she thought she could make a difference when it came to food—seafood in particular. “We thought there was a hole in the Denver market that we could fill by combining all the things we wanted in a seafood restaurant,” Jasinski told Zagat in 2014.
In addition to developing her Crafted Concepts restaurant group—which includes her latest in the revamped Union Station, a shopping, eating and transportation project meant to attract consumers to a more run-down part of town—she’s helped change Denver’s outlook on seafood. She’s credited with busting the myth of coastal superiority when it comes to sourcing good, sustainable seafood. Jorel Pierce, chef of all four Crafted Concepts, says once the team proved it could pull off such a feat, other local chefs changed their practices, too. “Indeed, others are now purchasing more carefully and focusing more on quality than quantity,” Pierce says, referencing Denver restaurants such as Cart-Driver and Blue Island Oyster Bar that focus on sustainable purchasing practices.
And she’s concerned about more than her restaurants, perpetuating the tradition of mentorship she learned under Puck. For the first time this year, she is participating in the James "Beard Foundation’s Women in Culinary Leadership program, where her restaurant Rioja will serve as a learning lab for one female grant winner. Previously, she also has partnered with Work Options for Women, a foundation that helps women gain foodservice industry skills to rise out of poverty.
Her teachings expand outside of the programs, too. Pierce, a James Beard Rising Star Chef semifinalist in 2014, started as an intern with Jasinski. And chef-of-the-moment Dana Rodriguez, who worked under Jasinski for 17 years, operates Work & Class, which is regarded as one of Denver’s best new restaurants, according to a cutting-edge city magazine. “The reason why people do well after working for her is because to be a mentor is not just about telling people what to do,” Rodriguez says.
"As a mentor, she takes the time to teach you, guide you and walk you through the whole process. That's the Jen way," says Dana Rodriguez, owner of Denver's Work & Class.